“Started making it, had a breakdown, bon appetit,” is an excellent way to describe how James Acaster seemingly lives his life off-stage. If his newest two hour special is anything to go off of, from falling out with therapists and managers to calling a mental health hotline after ruining his dessert on “The Great British Bake Off,” it seems that the line Acaster can’t remember saying on television that gave him fame in the US was not just an exhausted attempt at comedy, but a truthful evaluation of his life in 2017. “Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999” is not just another show, but Acaster immortalizing the worst year of his life as a stand-up comedy routine.
Back in March, British comedian James Acaster finally released his highly anticipated comedy special “Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999,” which was filmed in Dec. 2019 in London. Acaster’s return to the screen after his 2018 four-part Netflix special “Repertoire” has been met with high critical praise, earning him the award for the Most Outstanding Show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2019.
Acaster, known for absurdist humor generally removed from his personal life, dives unexpectedly deep into his own struggles, recounting his experiences in therapy after years of struggling with his mental health. Wrapped in many protective layers of humor and well-written comedy, Acaster exposes himself to the audience, an audience, I should mention, that Acaster often appears to hold in contempt. For a man who spent four hours on Netflix holding his audience at a carefully crafted distance, Acaster is unnervingly candid, starting act two of his show with a blunt declaration: “2017 was the worst year of my life. My girlfriend left me, my agent dropped me, and I shit myself in a steakhouse.” That statement is only the tip of Acaster’s self-loathing iceberg.
A common theme that runs through “Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999,” and “Repertoire” if you look more closely, is ending toxic relationships. Acaster focuses on relationships falling apart with three people in particular; his girlfriend, his manager, and his therapist. What do all three stories have in common? Codependency; a trait that Acaster asserts also exists in the relationship between performer and audience. We, as the audience, are the last relationship in his life that Acaster can’t seem to get out of, no matter how much he claims to hate us.
The first act of the show begins and ends with Acaster, a fairly clean-mouthed comedian, cursing up a blue streak in an attempt to scare away “a bunch of old people and Christians” who apparently frequent his shows. His want to “ditch these Chrizos ASAP” perhaps is more than just a bit. It is clear that Acaster is joking, however, contempt surrounding the relationship he has with his audience continues to shine through his well crafted and exaggerated material. Acaster often comes back around to audience responses to his material, begging the audience not to interact with him on Twitter. “Audiences are the worst part of this job, I swear to high Christ,” Acaster says amidst a rant about audience members attempting to joke with him after shows, “do you have any idea how demeaning this job is? Night after night, I’m the one out of everyone in the room who knows the most about comedy, and I’ve got to win your approval.”
As the show progresses and becomes more serious, despite Acaster’s unyielding ability to make the most depressing of material lighthearted at his own expense, it isn’t the audience that is the problem, but his own fear of rejection, which is deeply analyzed in this two hour therapy session. The special is at its core about mental health, despite Acaster saying he did not set out to write a “mental health show,” but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the funniest comedy specials of 2021 so far.
“Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999” is available to purchase now on Vimeo.
By Emily Frantz